Would like to establish context first. The analogy of making it illegal to drunk drive after drinking vs vaccine mandates. The drunk driving analogy is used in many political cases such as abortion.

I have a feeling the heart of the issue with the analogy could be forcing someone to do something is not the same as forcing someone not to do something.

I listed the pros and cons of each scenario below. Note the Cons of drunk driving is the same as the benefits of the vaccine. It lowers risks you may impose on others.

Driving Home Drunk:

Benefits: Get home Cons: Puts others at risk


Benefits: Vaccinated. Helps others and yourself from getting Covid. Cons: Unsure if COVID would cause more harm than vaccine would long term (this may apply to young people)

Let's establish these benefits and cons as true regardless of studies because this is not political.

Can anyone outline for me the reason this analogy falls apart? Or does it?

NOTE: This is not a political discussion. Otherwise it would be titled vaccine mandates. I solely want to identify issues or lack of issues in this analogy and other analogies of the same sort.

  • 1
    This depends on the ethical distinction between doing vs. allowing harm, controversial because its validity depends on the ethical framework one adopts. In consequentialist ethics the distinction is spurious. There is an interesting study on why people perceive morality of action vs inaction differently at least psychologically, see Sins of commission and the logic of omission, the causing of harm is more opaque for inaction.
    – Conifold
    Aug 11, 2021 at 19:09
  • Not exactly same but reminds me of the trolley thought experiment: a runaway trolley about to kill five people. Is it wrong to throw a switch to derail it and kill you instead? Is it right? If no and yes respectively, is it wrong to not do that? |||P (also: is it wrong if derailing would kill some other person but save five? Is it right? Then: wrong to not do that? What about pushing a fat guy off a bridge in front of it if youre certain that will save five lives? (Most all say THAT is wrong). Why the difference: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem )
    – Al Brown
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:22

3 Answers 3


I would argue no; rather than comparing apples to oranges, let's compare like-for-like. Drunk driving and vaccines are too disparate to be useful here.

Let's try suicide (not literally, please).
Is forcing someone to commit suicide the same as forcing someone not to commit suicide?

We do the latter all the time; at the most literal, with things like forced hospitalization in the mentally ill. There's an argument that this is in-and-of-itself unethical, but we'll put that aside for now.

Forcing somebody to commit suicide has happened before too, and still sadly happens, especially in elder abuse I believe. For a very pertinent example, see the Death of Socrates.

While we can find ethical issues in both sides, I think most ethical systems would be hard-pressed to prove that these two cases are equal in any way.

We can highlight this even further by broadening our scope; the enforcement of law.

Law enforcement, especially through violence, is a form of coercion and force, for either doing or not doing something.

In essence, you are always being forced to not murder people. Compare now to being forced to murder people.

Finally, let's flip it around so we cover all the bases, and force someone to do something "positive": you are forced to go to school in most countries, so you can learn and grow and develop your mind and body.

Where there are no child labour laws however, predatory employers can and will force those children to not to go school, in order to extract more labour from them.

I think that's enough examples; what I wanted to demonstrate is that your argument is dependent on the what; what is being forced? Dependent on the what, the force/forcenot dichotomy flips; the typically ethical answer can change places between force/forcenot.

So, firstly, we've demonstrated that they're not the same. Secondly, we've demonstrated that they're not the same dependant on the what.


I would say that the difference is that getting drunk is a conscious choice. By getting drunk, you are implicitly entering an agreement (with the law) that you will not operate a motor vehicle. No analogous prior agreement exists for the vaccine mandate.

  • What justifies the existence of implicit agreements? I can say that by getting drunk, you are implicitly entering an agreement (with me) that you will give me all your worldly possessions. What makes my agreement invalid but the law's agreement valid?
    – user253751
    Aug 12, 2021 at 8:16
  • @user253751 The agreement in a general sense is that you will act in accordance with the law. When you live in a country, it is common knowledge that you must obey the laws. Of course, anyone has the ability to disregard laws, but few people would want a country to take it up with them. Furthermore, it is held that ignorantia juris non excusat. If you disagree with the idea of people being compelled to follow laws to which they never explicitly agreed, that's fine. But that's the way it's been for centuries, and clearly your agreement does not hold water in the same way. Aug 12, 2021 at 10:37
  • One could equally well say that by living in the country you are implicitly entering an agreement to get any needed vaccines to maintain public health.
    – user253751
    Aug 12, 2021 at 10:53
  • If a vaccine mandate is put into place, and you continue to live in the country, then yes -- one could say that. But that would be a weak argument, in my opinion. For drink driving, if you get drunk, you have a disadvantage (you can't drive). Is it fair that someone averse to the vaccine should be "disadvantaged" by being forced to be vaccinated simply for continuing to live in the country, especially given the unreasonable difficulty of the alternative? I think few laws are "unqualified" in the same way. Aug 12, 2021 at 17:43
  • Not this particular vaccine. By living in the country you are implicitly agreeing to get any vaccines as and when needed.
    – user253751
    Aug 13, 2021 at 12:30

An abstract difference is that proscriptive mandates typically prohibit a very specifically delineated set of behaviors -- the "number of different things" you could do while still conforming to the requirements of the dictate is large. Prescriptive mandates require specific behaviors in order to conform to them -- there is only one (or a limited set) of ways to conform to the requirements of the dictate. In this way, these different kinds of mandates have different relationships to individual autonomy and liberty.

Specifically, if drunk driving is outlawed you still have plenty of options on how to go about getting drunk and returning home that avoid that specific behavior. If you have to get the shot, well, you have to get the shot. This is a difference and if someone puts a high value on individual liberty as a moral good, this could lead them to endorse one and reject the other.

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